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Q&A: Why Was Moses Told Exactly How To Blow His Trumpets?

Question: It says in Parashath B’ha’aloth’cha (Numbers 10:1-10) that Moses was to make himself two silver trumpets and have them blown thusly:

When they shall blow (w’thaq’u) with them, all the congregation shall gather themselves unto you at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And if they blow (yithqa’u)  with only one, then the leaders, the heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves unto you. And when you blow an alarm (t’ru’a), the camps that lie on the east side shall take their journey. And when you blow an alarm (t’ru’a) a second time, the camps that lie on the south side shall set forward; they shall blow an alarm for their journeys. But when the assembly is to be gathered together, ye shall blow (tithq’u), but you shall not sound an alarm (lo-thari’u).

We see that God commanded that t’qi’oth be blown when Moses needed to assemble people and t’ru’oth (accompanied by t’qi’oth, similarly to the way we blow t’ru’oth on Rosh Hashana – Rashi) were to be blown when the people marched. Why did He have to command it that way? Couldn’t God have left it to Moses (and the Leaders) to devise their own signals, say t’ru’oth for assembly and t’qi’oth for marching, or some other combination?

Answer: I have not seen this explicitly elsewhere, but I believe the answer lies in the traditional difference between the t’qi’a, which is traditionally a long, simple sound, and the t’ru’a, a complex sound. Note how the JPS translates the t’qi’a as either a blow or a blast, while the t’ru’a is translated as an alarm. That is not mistake. The Talmud reports how the identity of the sound of the t’ru’a was eventually the subject of controversy: was it what we now call sh’varim, what we call t’ru’a, or what we call sh’varim-t’ru’a? What is agreed upon is that the sound is complex, and certainly not the simple sound known forever as t’qi’a. The t’ru’a is the sound we are commanded to blow on Rosh Hashana, and out of doubt we sound all three possibilities, and each variation of t’ru’a is preceded and proceeded by a t’qi’a. The t’r’ua is the sound that has meaning. In the subsequent verses we read:

And when you go to war in your land against the adversary that oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm (waharei’othem) with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness, and in your appointed seasons, and in your new moons, ye shall blow (uthqa’tem) with the trumpets over your burnt-offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace-offerings; and they shall be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God.

That is, the t’ru’a is the sound we are to make when trouble is afoot, whereas the t’qi’a is an expression of Joy. The t’ru’a is a sound that is supposed to wake us up and alert us to the fact that we have to pray. There is much that our sages have to say about this with regards to the sounding of the t’ru’a on Rosh Hashana. I am reminded of the story Rabbi Soloveitchik would tell of the Lubavitcher Hasid who cried before sounding the shofar; I am also reminded of the closing benediction of the shofaroth prayers, “Blessed art Thou, Who heareth the sound of the t’ru’a of His people, Israel, with mercy.” Similarly, in the third chapter of Tractate Ta’anith, the t’ru’a is the sound that accompanies the prayers in times of war or drought, while the t’qi’a is used for assembly.

Moses was given the commandment to make and use these trumpets while the people were still encamped at Horeb and preparing to march to the Hoy Land and make war. Their camps were placed into military formation. War is a time of trouble and danger, so it fitting that t’ru’a be sounded when the camp was to begin marching. I believe that Moses understood this implicit message, because a few verses later it says:

And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said: ‘Rise up, O Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered; and let them that hate You flee before You.’

That is, Moses saw that the time for marching was a time for prayer.

The “Sin” Offering of the Nazirite

Numbers 6:13-14:

This is the law of the nazirite: On the day the term of his nazirite vow is completed, he shall present himself at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He shall bring his offering to the Lord: one unblemished lamb in its first year as a burnt offering, one unblemished ewe lamb in its first year as a sin offering, and one unblemished ram as a peace offering.

The original Hebrew word for sin offering is hattath. The root of the word, het-tet-alef also spells the traditional Hebrew word for sin, heit, and the hattath is elsewhere prescribed as the offering to atone for a number of sins (Leviticus 4).

But has the nazirite actually sinned in some way? Various answers are offered: that he sinned by ending his term as a nazirite (Nahmanides), or that he had sinned by depriving himself of wine (N’darim 10a).

It seems that according to the p’shat, the nazirite has not sinned, but rather the term hattath must be better understood. The root het-tet-alef in Hebrew also means a form of purification by purging (e.g., in Leviticus 14: and Ezekiel 43:22), and is even the modern Hebrew root for sterilization. Similarly the Hebrew root kaf-pei-reish not only means atonement, it also means to physically scour or purge (also a few times in Ezekiel 43), and is the verb classically used to describe the act of “kashering”vessels that were used to cook sacrificial meat. The hattath of the nazirite, like other hatta’oth, comes to scour (l’chappeir) a certain factor from the nazirite’s soul. Ordinarily, the hattath removes the “stain” of the sin, but in this case, the hattath removes the holiness the nazirite obtained during his term of service.

Letter to a Rabbi: Privately Grown Fruit in the Public Domain


Concerning the taking of grapes growing on a vine standing in private property but jutting out into the public domain. Can passerby eat of the fruit as a snack? I formulate the question that way because I will not yet approach the issue of separating tithes, etc. from those fruits.

Now, my goal in writing this is to show that the answer that I have heard to above question, namely “yes,” fits with the way Rabbi Joseph Karo understood the relevant talmudic sources, and can be and has been relied upon in practice.

The discussion in Bava M’tzi’a 107a (“R’ Judah said to Rabin b. R’ Nahman”) concerning a fruit tree close to or on the border between two private domains seems to indicate that the halacha is as Maimonides rules in Neighbors 4:9, that the owners of the domains both have rights to the fruits.  This ruling is quoted verbatim in Hoshen Mishpat 155:29 and in 167:2, but in the latter case, note that the Rema adds that if the tree is actually standing in the property of one but only has branches jutting into the domain of the other, the fruit belong entirely to the one in whose domain the tree stands. We see that the Rema makes a distinction between a tree “on the border” and one that is certainly not. The fruit of the former is “split” among the owners of the domains, whereas the latter belongs entirely to the owner of the tree. We also see that Maimonides and the Shulhan Aruch make no such distinction.

The Vilna Gaon writes that the source for the Rema’s distinction is Bava Bathra 27b, which was first brought into the discussion by the Tosafists. The Tosafists say that in the case on Bava M’tzi’a 107a, it can not be that if a tree is standing entirely within someone’s domain, then the neighbor should have a right to any of the fruit on the branches that cross the border, although Rashi seems to understand that it can be. The Gemara in Bava Bathra 27b introduces the idea that a tree feeds from the ground within a 16 cubit (that would be well over 20 feet!) radius of its trunk. If the border between two private domains is within that radius, then the tree would feed from both sides of the border. The Tosafists seem to understand the second (and presumably halachically accepted) version of Rabbi Yohanan’s subsequent statement as meaning that the one in whose domain the tree stands is not only not considered a “thief” for having his tree draw from the property of others, all of the tree’s fruits, even those that grow on branches jutting over the border into the domain of the other, are his to the extent that he brings bikkurim from them, and that is a “stipulation of Joshua.” If he brings from all of the tree’s fruit as bikkurim, they must all be his, and therefore, any tree under discussion on Bava M’tzi’a 107b must practically be on the border for us to entertain that the owner of the other domain has a right to some of the fruit.

I believe that Rashi, Maimonides, and the Shulhan Aruch do not subscribe to the Tosafists’ and Rema’s distinction because they believe that Bava Bathra 27b is not discussing who has the legal right to the fruits (possession, etc.), but rather is pointing out that even though the fruits are technically to be divided between the owners of both domains because the border is within the tree’s 16-cubit radius, only the one in whose domain the trunk is standing may bring bikkurim, and that is the novelty of Joshua’s stipulation. This seems to be way Maimonides rules in his own Bikkurim 2:11. As for the law concerning who can bring of those fruits as bikkurim, we have seen from the first chapter of Tractate Bikkurim that the standard of ownership for that law is much higher. It is not sufficient that the fruit be legally his, even to the extent that he must be the one to tithe that fruit. Rather, the fruit also has had to grow on “his” land, and therefore, in the eyes of the Shulhan Aruch, et al., any argument for or against ownership brought from sources specifically discussing bikkurim should be irrelevant to our question.

This concerns a tree that approaches the border of another individual. As for a privately owned tree whose branches jut into the public domain, the last Mishna in Bava Bathra Chapter 2 (also on 27b) mentions the right of individuals to even cut down said branches in order to make room for their passing beasts. This is codified in Torts 13:26. Now, what if those branches have fruit on them? We find nowhere in the early sources that the cutter should be concerned or liable for the loss of value to the tree or the destruction of its fruit. For example, why do we not find that the owner of the tree can demand that the branches only be cut once its fruits have ripened? Destroying the branches before they ripen will of course make them worthless. Similarly, we do not find that the cutter must then trouble himself to go and gather whatever fruit there may have been and bring it to the owner. The right of any member of the public to destroy those branches seems to indicate that the branches and what grows on them are in his “possession.” This halacha is also brought in Hoshen Mishpat 417:4, where the author also mentions that the owner of the tree is not even given notification that branches of his tree are to be cut down.

However, the Shulhan Aruch, (Hoshen Mishpat 260:6) in discussing lost and found property, gives a number of cases whereby ownership of a found item can be assumed due to the item’s location:

“A fig tree that leans into the [public] path and figs were found underneath it: they are permitted [to the finder] because the owner of the tree despairs of recovering them because figs and the like become ruined when they fall, but olives and carobs and the like would be forbidden [under similar circumstances]…”

This law, although it would allow for taking grapes that had already fallen (I am assuming that grapes are fig-like in their susceptibility to spoilage) does not allow for taking all types of fruits, and neither figs or the like that are still attached. The status of fruit is contingent on the owner’s despair or allowance, implying that if neither are present, the fruit are entirely his. However this rule also leaves open a large theoretical door for societal allowance and/or “Law of the Land,” i.e., if societal conventions or state law would declare any and all such fruits as free for the taking, then even if an owner had specified intent not to allow others to take of those fruits, others would be allowed to. Note also the corresponding passage in the Concise Code of Jewish Law 182:15, where the standard for passerby having the right to take of the fruit is even lower: If they are the type of fruit that fall down and become ruined, or if the animals that frequent the place can eat them. This would seem to be the basis for the rule that I was taught, namely, that in our communities, the grapes etc. that grow from private yards but are in practice within the public domain, may be taken and eaten by passerby, because if they don’t, the birds and lizards will. 

The Israeli Lands Law, 5729, can be found here,, 8:4:50, but note that the law allows passerby to take from fruit that has already fallen. It makes no mention of fruit that has yet to fall.

Further, and to me this is the most important part, I do not believe that this law (Hoshen Mishpat 260:6) is discussing our case at all. Notice that it is included here, and in MT Theft and Found Property 15:16 concerning exactly that: lost and found property. See the source discussion, Bava M’tzi’a 21a-b, which is less about assuming that these fruits fell right from the branches above them, but more about determining that because this fig tree (or vine) is adjacent to the public domain, it indicates that those figs on the street are some of those that the owner had already picked and gathered from that very tree, and the novelty of the teaching is that the right of a finder to keep those fruits would depend on the hardiness of the fruit, but if we were discussing fruit that was actually growing or had grown over the border and in the public domain, then those are not owned by the owner of the tree. Interpreting the Gemara, Maimonides, and the Shulhan Aruch this way avoids a contradiction to which I alluded earlier: If a passerby were sometimes within his rights to destroy those branches and their fruits, why would he suddenly have to treat those fruits as owned by someone else?

An Atheist Is, Unfortunately, An Atheist

The title is a paraphrase of something Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik once said concerning an appiqorus, a word that once upon a time meant an Epicurean but came to be a general term for heretic in the post-Talmuidc Rabbinic literature. He was referring to those Jews who were honest and sincere believers in God and practitioners of the Torah and commandments, but, due to ignorance or some other intellectual disadvantage, harbored what were actually heretical beliefs. Dr. Marc Shapiro once wrote a book about the authority of Maimonides’s 13 Principles of Faith, (link to the article that spawned the book) and noted that although there is room to say that someone who inadvertently holds heretical beliefs, for example, he was never educated to believe that God is not corporeal and he is not learned enough to investigate the matter, should not be held liable in the eyes of the Torah, similar to the rule that one who violates the Sabbath inadvertently, by performing acts which he did not know were prohibited, is not held liable. However, many authorities, Rav Chaim included, apparently held that for whatever reason, one who held heretical beliefs was, unfortunately, still a heretic.

If so, then in my lifetime I have met many Atheist-yet-Orthodox rabbis, and I have read the works of still more such inadvertent Orthodox Atheists.

Some years ago I wrote how “R’ Schachter came to speak at Lander College. The first time was to sit on a panel with Rabbi Lau, Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen, and Rabbi Tendler, and discuss Religious Zionism in the post-Zionist era” but I did not get around to writing about what they had to say, although what R’ Schachter did say that day made a very strong impression on me. Firstly, he mentioned that he was disappointed in how the Zionist establishment had somehow not conveyed the historically positive approach to Zionism and the advent of the State of Israel Rabbi Soloveitchik had so eloquently expounded. After he spoke, I informed R’Schachter that in the mostly Modern-Orthodox Yeshiva Gedola I attended, the favored students ran the hashkafic spectrum from anti-Zionist to non-Zionist, and the situation was about the same in the yeshivas within his sphere of influence. Secondly, he made mention of the following issue described at the Daas Torah blog:

When the guns were silent after the incredibly short war in June 1967, Israelis discovered that not only had they survived but they had soundly thrashed the massive armies of the surrounding Arab countries and in addition had acquired the West Bank – which included the Old City of Jerusalem and the location of the Temple. Everyone seemed to say it was an open miracle. There was one major dissenting voice – the Satmar Rebbe – who insisted that it was not only not a miracle but the victory was in fact the work of Satan. He emphatically stated that miracles don’t happen for the Zionist  – especially to support the theological crime known as the State of Israel.
Several months later at the annual Aguda Convention, this astounding event was the central topic of discussion  Speaker after speaker spoke on the topic and the gedolim were clearly divided on whether to agree or disagree with the Satmar position. One of those who publicly agreed with the Satmar view was Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky.
At the Melava Malka that weekend, the keynote speaker was Rav Itchie Meyer Levin – the Gerrer Rebbe’s son-in-law. He of course spoke about the topic. After some introductory comments he made the following observation. “Not so long ago the Jewish people suffered the horrible loss of 6  million Jews in the Holocaust. When we went to the gedolim for an explanation we were told that we must be silent and accept this because it was G-d’s will. Now we were just faced with another possible holocaust in the Land of Israel but the Jews were saved this time. We hear gedolim who say that these millions who were saved were saved by Satan. How is that when it comes to the death of Jews it is G-d’s work but when it comes to rescuing them from death it is Satan? It can’t be.”
Rav Schachter then declared that we of course can not hold of the Satmar position, because “it is Avoda Zara.” Jews see God throughout history. We are bidden to thank him and praise Him for the good and for the bad. We attribute the Jewish people’s downfalls as punishments for our failures to keep His word, and victories are attributed to His acting out of love toward us and commitment to the Covenant. We certainly do not believe in the Christian notion of a Satan who can act outside of whatever role he has been given by God, nor do we believe in some kind of dualistic conflict between a good God and a Devil bent on evil. The traditional conception of the Satan is merely the angel who acts to tempt men, to test them if they will walk in God’s ways, an integral part of the creation but no more powerful to influence history than any other of the ministering angels who are charged with the other natural forces. To believe that something other than God saved His people is the height of idolatry. And a prophetic pronouncement if there ever was one.
But what would we call someone who believes that the events of the Six Day war, or for that matter, the founding of the state, were innocuous, neither acts of Divine providence, nor some nefarious doings of the Devil, but just part of a long chain of human wars and politics that will not matter in the long run? I believe that that would be the atheist approach, and a subscriber would be called an atheist, because he does not see God’s involvement in those events. Indeed, most rabbinical types I have met who are not observers of Israeli Independence Day as a religious celebration treat the day and its surrounding history as a mere historical curiosity, the day when the goyim stopped being in charge of the borders of the country and the political structure that generates the issues of national budgeting and shouldering the military burden was created. But it is not religious.
The question I fielded two weeks ago was, how come so many Rabbis, especially in and around Jerusalem, do not observe Independence Day, but still observe Jerusalem Day? Weren’t the circumstances surrounding the days similar?
The answer I gave them: There are no atheists in a foxhole. When it comes to Israeli Independence Day, they reason that the war was drawn out and the circumstances that precipitated the Declaration of Independence did not involve an immediate and clear threat of destruction, and the British just happened to forsake the mandate on that date. Perhaps history did not demand that the state be declared that day, and it could have worked out differently. But the six day war was thrust upon the Jews suddenly. All knew that they faced imminent and swift destruction:
As is well known by now, the mood leading up to the Six Days War was very gloomy. Many in Israeli [sic] and in the Diaspora were anticipating a war which would be very costly in life – both for the soldiers and civilian population. The more optimistic view was that Israel would take a harsh beating but would survive. There is no need to mention the pessimistic view.
and the victory came even more suddenly and involved the emotions of being able to return to the holy sites of the Kotel and Hebron. Further, many of the Rabbis the questioners are familiar with were possibly studying in Israel during the Six Day War or lived through the period of intense national anxiety that permeated the international Jewish community in the days leading up to war. In short, they experienced the miracle themselves. This distinction is critical and welcome, because it brought back many good, religious Jews from the brink of godlessness. More than that: even the Jews who did not consider themselves religious had a sensation of something more, and the great movement toward Teshuva that is so strong today, began.


Q&A: Bananas, Anti-Zionism, and Morning & Evening Prayers in the Afternoon

Question: Why is the bracha on a banana ha’adama when in non-snowy countries it’s not seasonal but grows all year?

Answer: In Orah Hayim 203:3 we find that the mu’azish (bananas are from the the genus musa) are considered a food on which the blessing should be ha’adama because they do not grow on the types of trees that our sages recognized, trees that have permanent, wooden sections that give fruit on an annual basis.

Question: Someone said modern-day Israel or its wars can’t prove anything with regards to the geula or moshiach because moshiach has to come first, so this doesn’t count towards our redemption. Does Rambam say it has to be in the order of first the messiah, then war, then Jews in Israel, or could this be the start?

Answer: See what I wrote about this some years ago here. The short version: Maimonides (Laws of Kings and their Wars, 12:2) writes

There are some Sages who say that Elijah’s coming will precede the coming of the Messiah. All these [the War of Gog and Magog, and Elijah’s future ministry mentioned in the previous law] and similar matters cannot be definitely known by man until they occur, for these matters are undefined in the prophets’ words and even the wise men have no established tradition regarding these matters except their own interpretation of the verses. Therefore, there is a controversy among them regarding these matters.

Regardless of the debate concerning these questions, neither the order of the occurrence of these events or their precise detail are among the fundamental principles of the faith. A person should not occupy himself with the Aggadot and homiletics concerning these and similar matters, nor should he consider them as essentials, for study of them will neither bring fear or love of God.

We see that Maimonides himself did not declare that the events of the Redemption have to occur in a specific order, unlike the views of the Satmar Rebbe, R’ Shach, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and others who opposed the Zionist movement and the founding of the State of Israel precisely because they preceded the advent of the Messiah. More so, we have been made witness to the ingathering of the exiles happening first, and it could very well be that the Temple will be rebuilt before he appears. I personally do not care about the order, but pray that all come about as soon as possible.

Question: The Chassidim say the Maggid paskened they can daven after chatsot is that lechatchila or bediavad?

Answer: The halacha as brought by the R’ma in Orah Hayim 89 is that it is forbidden to pray the morning service after noon, while the unstated opinion in disagreement would feel that shaharith in the afternoon would not count as anything. See the details here. Think about it. If one prays after noon, that’s minha, not shaharith. Real hasidim pray the morning service at sunrise.

Question: Can you lechatchila daven maariv early before sunset like Shabbat then say Shema and Omer later that night?

Answer: It seems that Maimonides would only allow such on Fridays and Sabbaths, but others allow it everyday. Maimonides would point to the Talmudic teaching that sages would pray maariv early on Fridays and then recite qiddush and eat their meals, while on Sabbaths they would recite ma’ariv and havdala early (but not perform forbidden labor until nightfall), while the others would say that the novelty of those teachings is that while one can technically recite ma’ariv early every day of the week, on  Fridays and Sabbaths reciting ma’ariv early allows one to then recite qiddush or havdala early. That is, one could not accept the Sabbath early and recite qiddush without first reciting his evening prayers. This latter opinion is that of the Shulhan Aruch and the Mishna B’rura, and the one that old folks and those who live in extreme latitudes rely on during the summer when they gather for evening services before sunset.

Why Afikoman Instead of Pesah?

Lately I have been troubled by the lack of the korban pesah at the seder. The centerpiece mitzwa of the holiday is missing, and its absence has left an indelible mark on the the entire corpus of ritual that is supposed to take place.

Last week, as I began preparing for Passover on both sides of the fence by getting ready to spend the holiday in Jerusalem with a bunch of strangers with whom I had joined in buying a share of a lamb while also preparing to spend the holiday at home, I got to thinking about the replacement mitzwa. According to the Talmud (P’sahim 119-120), when the seder is lacking the meat of the korban pesah, we are to eat a second portion of matza in its stead. Although the word afikoman refers to some sort of dessert they may have wanted to eat after eating the sacrifice, the word eventually came to refer to this second portion of matza that is put aside at the start of the seder to be eaten after the holiday meal. Various laws and customs that apply to the meat of the sacrifice were then transposed to this portion of matza: it has to be eaten in order to complete one’s satiation, nothing can be eaten after it, and it needs to be eaten by dawn (or midnight to play it safe). On the surface this makes sense. The biblical commandment to eat maror is only applicable when the korban pesah is present, so in its absence we have the rabbinic commandment to eat maror even when we can not eat the sacrificial meat. Further, the seder plate is really supposed to have the meat of both the pesah and the sh’lamim on it, but in the absence of those sacrifices, we place a piece of roasted meat and a roasted egg on the plate in their memory. And there are many other rituals that we possess that are in memory of what was and should be, including, according to many, the counting of the Omer, which today is a rabbinic enactment in memory of the true count as prescribed by the Torah.

But korbanoth should be different. We have a general rule of avar yomo batel korbano, if its time has passed, the sacrifice has been missed (B’rachoth 26a), i.e., we do not seek to make up sacrifices that have a set time that was missed. The morning passed without the morning lamb, so there is nothing we can do but make sure to offer any subsequent sacrifices on time. (Sacrifices that are imposed on individuals due to their circumstances, such as by women who give birth and converts upon their conversion, must be brought no matter how late, so when the Temple service is restored every convert will have to bring a sacrifice even decades after his conversion, and every woman will have to bring a number of offerings corresponding to her births.) If we missed the time for offering the paschal lamb, there is nothing we can do to replace it. Further, the sages imposed a rule that roasted lambs and kids not be eaten the first night of Passover (B’rachoth 19a): 

Theodus of Rome accustomed the Roman [Jews] to eat kids roasted whole on the night of Passover. Simon ben Shetah sent to him and said: Were you not Theodus, I would excommunicate you, because you make Israel [appear to] eat holy foods outside [Jerusalem].

Maimonides and the Shulhan Aruch rule likewise, and most places have a further prohibition of eating any roasted meat not the korban the night of the seder. If there is no sacrifice, we should not do something that looks like we are eating sacrificial meat in a forbidden place.

Most importantly, we have the concept of studying the sacrifices (M’gilla 31b):

Abraham said before the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the Universe, perhaps God forbid, Israel will sin before You and You will do to them as You did to the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Dispersion? … This is very well for the time when the Temple will be standing, but in the time when there will be no Temple what will befall them? He replied to him: I have already fixed for them the order of the sacrifices. Whenever they will read the section dealing with them, I will reckon it as if they were bringing me an offering, and forgive all their sins.

This idea is reflected in many more talmudic passages. When we know we can not offer the sacrifices, we instead recite and study the relevant biblical and talmudic passages that describe the sacrifices. This is the basis for the daily recitation of the korbanoth before the morning (and afternoon) services and the the musaf prayers. The practice of the Vilna Gaon was to recite all the relevant passages the afternoon of the 14th of Nisan, which was the time for the offering of the korban pesah. I would expect that instead of eating something at the seder when the time comes to eat the Passover sacrifice, we would read a relevant biblical or mishnaic passage that describes how the action would/should be done.  Why eat something? We never do that when we can not offer some other sacrifice. We don’t do that for the other sacrifice, the sh’lamim, that is also missing from the seder! Further, assuming that we will therefore eat something at the seder to replace the missing pesah, why would it be matza? Eating matza is its own commandment that we have already fulfilled. Why should we replace this missing mitzwa with one that we have already performed? Strangely enough, the sages of the Talmud make both assumptions, that something should be eaten in memory of the pesah and that it should be matza, and they only argue about how that mazta should be eaten, with maror or without, or maybe all of it should be eaten in one shot at the conclusion of the meal?

I would like to try to offer answers to these questions. As for the necessity of replacing the korban pesah with something that needs to be eaten, we have to look at the nature of the korban pesah. Technically speaking, the korban pesah is the only form of sacrificial meat that a Jewish person must eat. A person can go his entire life without eating from any other sacrifice if the need never arises, but he cannot avoid the pesah. So much so, that eating the korban pesah is only one of two positive commandments that must be performed on the penatly of excision, the other being circumcision. That is, one who does not eat of the korban pesah is as deserving of punishment as one who does not circumcise himself, or one who desecrates Yom Kippur. Further, the nature of the offering of the pesah is fundamentally different from all the other sacrifices. While the main purpose of the sacrifices are the portions that are offered on the altar, the “satisfying aroma,” with the pesah the main purpose is the ritual eating of the meat. Yes, to qualify as a sacrifice its blood and fats need to be placed on the altar, but the commandment is that the meat be eaten at the seder as part of the educational process, and therefore when there is no meat something else should be eaten.

But why matza? I found one line in the classical s’farim that sheds light on the question. The Bach offers that matza was the chosen replacement because “it is also a mitzwa.” I hope that the elaboration is as follows:

Rabban Gamliel says that whoever does not mention three components of the seder has not fulfilled his obligation to tell the story of the Exodus: pesah, matza and maror. The three foods each represent facets of the miracles of the Exodus, and all are to be eaten. Rabban Gamliel’s grandfather, Hillel the Elder, believed that they all must literally be eaten together as a sandwich, and Maimonides rules that such may be done. The pesah represents that God “passed over” our houses in Egypt, an anthropomorphism which Onkelos translates as “He took compassion” on us. That is, the meat of the sandwich represents God’s active salvation. The matza of the beginning of the seder, the broken matza, represents poverty and oppression and was the food of slaves that needed to be baked even before the Exodus, while the matza of the end of maggid, the whole matza, represents the haste that we showed when we left Egypt, when another batch of slave food was prepared not because it was slave food, but because there was no time to allow it to rise. The matza of the sandwich represents our active demonstration of leaving the exile and going home to Israel. The maror of course, represents the bitterness of the bondage, but in the sandwich, it only makes the meat and bread, the deliverance and Exodus, taste better.

So, what if the metaphorical and physical sandwiches of redemption lack the meat, the aspect of God’s compassion which is shown by our ability to offer the sacrifices? No korban means no Temple and no service, which mean we are undeserving as yet of God’s complete mercy. If we were deserving we would merit to have the Temple and the korban pesah. But they are missing. All we have is a rushed, bitter-lettuce sandwich that represents leaving the bitterness of the exile. So what can we do? We should add matza. Enough matza to make up for the missing korban. If we want the restoration of the Temple, we have to show that we are doubling our efforts to leave the diaspora. We double up on matza and the haste to leave the fleshpots of Egypt and America. And that, God willing, will lead us next year to be able to have a complete seder.

Q&A: When Is the Earliest I Can Start My Seder?

Question: When is the earliest I can start my seder?

Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (Orah Hayim 472:1) rules that

One should have his table set while it is still day so that he can eat immediately k’shetehshach, when it gets dark, and even if he is in the house of study, he should rise [to do so] because it is a commandment to hurry and eat [the matza, maror, and paschal lamb] before the children fall asleep, but he should not recite qiddush until shetehshach, it gets dark.

The common understanding of this passage is that ״dark״ refers to a time significantly after sunset, usually identified with tzeith hakochavim, when three stars become visible, which is somewhere between a quarter and a third of an hour. This is explicitly defined by the Talmud as the time when 1. the evening sh’ma may be recited, 2. Kohanim who had immersed during the day are considered ritually clean enough to eat t’ruma, and 3. when the Sabbath and Yamim Tovim officially end. For our purposes, we will refer to this moment as “nightfall.”

This opinion is based on a number of Talmudic sources that mention that the consumption of the Passover sacrifice be done after tehshach, or specifically at night, as opposed to day. The Rosh and the Tosafists understood that this certainly applies to the meat of the offering, and it could be seen from the Tosefta that the same applies to the matza, which was eaten in conjunction with the paschal lamb. As we saw earlier, one has the opportunity to accept the holiness of the Sabbath or Festival even before the sun sets, and on those days, recite qiddush and have his meal well before nightfall. This opinion would still allow for one to accept the Festival early and recite qiddush and begin the seder early, just as long as the eating of the matza eventually is done after nightfall. Considering that maggid intervenes, it is not too hard to do so. However, there are also authorities, like the T’rumath Hadeshen, who link even the rabbinical commandments of the evening with the eating of the matza, and therefore, the drinking of the first of the four cups also has to be after nightfall. The Rosh has an interesting argument: one should avoid eating path the latter half of the afternoon before any Sabbath and holiday so that he has an appetite when the holy day starts, so why does the Mishna in P’sahim specify that one should also avoid eating before Passover “before it gets dark?” It must be that the Mishna is emphasizing that the meal that starts Passover is different from all other Holiday and Sabbath evening meals which may be conducted even before nightfall. The Passover meal has to be later.

The Shulchan Aruch’s method of deciding between conflicting opinions makes this ruling not fully consistent with other halachoth. There is also the unaddressed opinion of the Rif and Maimonides and others, who disagree on a number of points. This alternate view not only seems to have been shared by the majority of Rishonim, it was the practice up until the modern era, once again because of the difficulty engendered by a world without electricity.

The first issue is about the key word, shetehshach. As you can find in all the other contexts, even though shetehshach literally means “when it gets dark,” it is used for when the line between the ordinary day and the holy day, or vice versa, is crossed. This is how we understand it with regards to accepting the Sabbath and reciting the qiddush and eating the meal. It so happens, that according to Maimonides, for example, the standard of “nightfall” is specifically with regards to the list of halachoth above, which do not involve the performance of positive commandments that require a specific holy day, but with regards to commandments that are defined by a particular day, like the qiddush and meal on the Sabbath and on the festivals, or even eating the matza, once someone has accepted the holiness of the day, he can perform those commandments.

As for the sources that explicitly declare that the matza and sacrificial meat only be eaten at “night,” those are not saying as opposed to the time that is “day, ” i.e., when the sun is shining, but rather as opposed to the times when other sacrificial meat can be eaten. Other sacrificial meat can be eaten the day it is slaughtered, and then the ensuing night, and sometimes the ensuing day also. The qorban pesah, unlike all the other sacrifices, can be eaten the calendar day it is slaughtered, 14 Nisan, and it must not be left by the morning of the fifteenth. By “night,” the sages were saying that only the night of of the 15th of Nisan is the time for eating the pesah, but technically the night starts once the festival is accepted.

In answer to the Rosh’s argument that the mishna did not need to rule that one should begin to build up an appetite in advance of Passover, and therefore the Mishna meant that the eating of the matza and pesah literally be after nightfall, other Rishonim believe that the Mishna is specifically forbidding all foods, not just forms of path, because every form of path is either already forbidden as a form of hametz, or forbidden as a form of matza.

Therefore, according to the approach used by the Shulhan Aruch in other places, there is not necessarily an obligation to eat the matza and pesah specifically after the stars come out. One only needs to eat them once the holiness of the day is accepted. Further, even if one were to accept the argument that the matza of the seder needs to be eaten after nightfall, it does not follow that the cups of wine also be consumed after nightfall. The idea of the T’rumath Hadeshen is not one that can be found in the Talmud, and was unknown to many of the Rishonim.

What is forbidden during the latter half of the afternoon on the 14th of Nisan? According to the Rosh, Tosafos and the Shulchan Aruch, one can still eat matza ashira (and in some cases matza-meal products,) until the second half of the afternoon, and after that he can still eat fruits and vegetables and the like,  but according to Maimonides, the Zohar, and the Vilna Gaon, all forms of matza are forbidden the entire day, and once the second half of the afternoon hits, one should no longer eat anything, but he has the option of accepting the holiday early and begining his seder and Yom Tov meal even before the stars come out.

Also, this should give us time to reflect on how many later stringencies basically prevented us from accepting many Yamim Tovim early. When it comes to Sukkoth, many are told that the commandment/obligation of dwelling in the sukka can only be discharged after nightfall. In truth, this is a minority opinion, and just like one can accept the holiday early, he can begin to perform the commandments of the holiday early. For Passover, you can see how many would not even try to start the holiday early considering the widespread practice the Shulhan Aruch  of not starting the seder before nightfall, but this still allows for synagogues to finish their services before that. With regards to starting Shavu’oth early, the humra of the Sh’la, namely that the counting of the Omer has to end after nightfall after the forty-ninth day, has become so assumed, you can find prominent rabbis who declare that Ashkenazim must follow it. The truth is that it was always assumed that for the Omer to consist of “seven flawless weeks,” each week of the count has to have seven days, but not that the last day, and therefore the entire count, would be blemished or deficient if the day after the count were to start early. On the contrary, the commandment to count the Omer is completed the instant one says “Today is 49 days, which is seven weeks of the Omer” and he no longer needs to do anything to else. There are still places that accept Shavu’oth early. Next, most are told that every Yom Tov Sheni has to start after nightfall, but once again, this is just a well-known minority opinion that only took off recently in history. How many times have you heard about not lighting candles and preparing the second night meal until after nightfall? I learned about this halacha directly from Rabbi Yisroel Janowski of Miami, that that policy is to protect laymen from preparing for the second night while it is still Yom Tov Rishon, but if Yom Tov Sheni is accepted early, just like any other festival, then it is as though the first day has come to a complete end. And indeed, not only is this still done in many places, this used to be the standard practice.

In conclusion, there  is much justification for starting Passover and the seder early, especially for those who have difficulty waiting until late just to start the seder. Many more children and the elderly can be much more active participants at the seder and stick around for more of it if we were to take advantage of the straight halacha and avoid the humra. The earliest time would be plag haminha, which in Israel would be at about 5:50pm on Friday. For the masses, this probably should not be done.


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